Updated: May 3, 2022
Jenny Tate, one of the sisters in If You Only Knew, is a wedding dress designer. Honestly, can you imagine how fun that would be? Surrounded every day by gorgeous fabric and lace, having the talent to make such a beautiful garment. I’m sure it’s not all lace and satin…you have to deal with brides and families and high emotions, but still. What a job!
Shows like Say Yes to the Dress and the general hubbub around weddings have made wedding dress shopping quite the event. Women rent limos and take their friends and sisters, mothers and aunties to the store and try on dress after dress after dress.
This was not my experience at all. Granted, this was back in the olden days, almost 24 years ago. McIrish and I had gotten engaged after a mere six weeks of dating, and my mother was not convinced it would last (she’s getting there, I’m happy to report).
Anyway, I was the first bride in our family, the first of my generation to marry. We didn’t know how to do it, luckily. My sister was my only bridesmaid and she lived in Seattle at the time, so she couldn’t come. One Saturday, my mom and I got into the car and went to the bridal boutique nearest to our town. “I’d like to try on dresses,” I said to the woman who greeted us.
“Do you have an appointment?” she asked.
“When’s your wedding?”
“December.” (It was March-ish).
The woman looked stricken. “Brides usually start shopping about a year out.”
I shrugged. “We just met. Can I just try on one or two?”
“You need an appointment.”
“Oh, come on,” I said. “No one’s here right now. Please? Pretty please?”
So she acquiesced, reluctantly, and told me to make it quick. I hadn’t done any homework on what kind of dress I wanted, so I just pointed out three that looked nice. Into the dressing room I went. My mother commented that a black bra was probably not the best choice of the day and zipped me up.
“What do you think?” I asked my mom, who was not sobbing into a hankie or making snide comments…she was just sitting there, smiling…like a normal person. In hindsight, I know she was trying hard to keep it together. My father had died two years before, and going through her first daughter’s wedding without him was incredibly hard.
“They’re all beautiful,” Mom said. “What do you think?”
I really had no preference, to be honest. My wedding day was just a day, after all. What I was really excited about was not getting married; it was being married, all the days and years to come after December 14th. “Give me a second,” I told my mom, and she left the dressing room.
I looked at myself in the mirror and thought of my dad.
On the big day, he wouldn’t be walking me down the aisle; my brother would be doing that in his place. He had never met the tender-hearted Irish boy I’d be marrying. We wouldn’t have the father-daughter dance that I knew would’ve reduced him to tears. We never got to pick our song.
“Which one do you like best, Daddy?” I asked.
About to marry my honey!
So the one I picked was outrageously romantic because Dad was like that. I picked the one with the Cinderella silhouette, the same as my mother’s wedding dress. I imagined my father, his clear blue eyes teary, walking me down the aisle.
On the big day, McIrish obliged me by getting choked up at the sight of me, and his voice was husky during our vows. Me, I was all smiles that day.
During the reception, I dedicated a song to my grandfather from all his daughters and granddaughters. It was Bette Midler’s “The Wind Beneath My Wings,” and as Poppy and I danced, he listened to the lyrics. “This song is really about your father,” he said.
“It’s about you, too, Poppy,” I said. “But yes.”
My new book comes out next week, and I hope you’ll love reading about the wedding dresses (and everything else) in If You Only Knew! And I hope that all the weddings you go to will be remembered for the happiness and love, rather than the dress.